As part of its 50th anniversary year, Rolling Stone magazine’s May 4th “special issue” included a lengthy article on The 50 Greatest Concerts of the Last 50 Years. I’ve been avoiding some of the “top N” lists that constantly flood social media, being so many are seemingly dreamed up by guys in their basement fishing for “click bait,” and some deemed dangerous to our privacy. But this article from the venerable rock magazine is entertaining and informative, well worth seeking out.
Over the years I’ve disagreed many times with critic’s music choices in Rolling Stone; they are so often focused on artists from the 1960’s and so frequently biased towards more commercial acts, weighted towards those hailing from the U.S. But the coverage is in depth, and the political analysis suits my beliefs nicely. I’ve been a long time subscriber.
The list of top 50 concerts in part drew my attention as I’ve recently released a book on the greatest concerts of the 70s entitled Rockin’ the City of Angels which features 36 acts from that decade, nearly all of whom played in my home town of Los Angeles, California. Was curious to see where our lists would match, and where they would diverge, and if that would be predictable for Rolling Stone. Due to the article covering 5 decades, there were 18 shows specifically from the 70s to consider.
Not surprising RS focused primarily on the type of bands that have nearly always appealed to their writing staff, six of which, in bold, matched mine, including:
The Who (Leeds, February 14, 1970)
Neil Young and Crazy Horse (Fillmore East March, 1970)
Elton John (Troubador, August 25-30, 1970)
Aretha Franklin (Fillmore West, March 5-7, 1971)
B.B. King (Cook County Jail, September 10, 1970)
The Allman Brothers (Fillmore East, March 11-13, 1971)
The Band (December 28-31, 1971)
The Rolling Stones (North America Tour, 1972)
David Bowie (World Tour 1972-73)
Van Morrison (North American Tour, 1973)
Patti Smith Group & Television (CBGB 1975)
Bob Marley (The Lyceum Theater, July 17-18, 1975)
Bob Dylan (Rolling Thunder Review, 1975-76)
Grateful Dead (North American Tour, 1977)
The Ramones (European Tour, 1977)
The Eagles (U.S. Tour 1977-1978)
The Clash (North American Tour, 1979)
Pink Floyd (The Wall Tour, 1980-81)
A 30% hit rate wasn’t a complete miss! In fact, as my own selection filtered out American R&B and the burgeoning punk movement (saved for future books), I match on about half of these artists. In addition, Van Morrison and Bob Marley are both artists I would have covered had editorial considerations not limited the book’s length!
A few particulars:
The Who Live at Leeds is indeed legendary as noted in RS, and it kicks off the first chapter in my book, as the Tommy album, the now expanded Live at Leeds recordings, and the film Live at the Isle of Wight rate highly in my collection.
Elton John’s record-breaking shows at Dodger Stadium in 1975 are featured in my book, but I can absolutely back the argument that his first, intimate shows at the Troubadour launched him in the City of Angels, and make sense as the focus of the RS list.
David Bowie’s seminal concerts during his Ziggy Stardust period in 1972-73 absolutely rate highly, and the movie taken from this tour is the primary official release of this artist on film during the decade. I struggled with the choice between this tour, and the 1976 shows in support of my favorite Station to Station. While Ziggy meant everything particularly to my friends in Hollywood and downtown, back in my suburban valley, I was more attuned to Station’s lush, disco-infused wares. The performances on that tour were striking – as one writer put it, Bowie appeared as a “hollow man who sang songs of romance with an agonized intensity… ice masquerading as fire.”
Ultimately these lists are a difficult undertaking – always there are forgotten favorites, and when it comes to musical art, how does one define “greatest” – it’s largely subjective, yet occasionally we labor to piece them together and support our conclusions.
If I were pressed to make a similar list of the 18 “greatest” concerts of the 1970s, as experienced my original home town of Los Angeles, understanding that all of the other 18 I cover in Rockin’ the City of Angels rate in my book, the list below would be my conclusion:
The Who – Tommy tour Anaheim Stadium June 14, 1970
The Rolling Stones – Exile on Main Street tour L.A. Forum, 1972
Jethro Tull – A Passion Play tour L.A. Forum July 20–22, 1973
Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Brain Salad Surgery tour California Jam April 6, 1974
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black tour – Shrine Auditorium June 19, 1974
Genesis – The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour Shrine Auditorium January 24, 1975
Cat Stevens – Majikat tour L.A. Forum, February 2, 1976
David Bowie – Station to Station tour L.A. Forum February 8, 9 & 11, 1976
Ambrosia – Somewhere I Never Travelled tour – Santa Monica Civic 1976
Paul McCartney & Wings – Wings Over the World tour L.A. Forum June 21, 1976
Queen – News of the World tour L.A. Forum December 22, 1977
Led Zeppelin – Presence tour L.A. Forum June 23, 1977
Yes – Relayer Tour – Anaheim Stadium – July 17, 1976
Supertramp – Even in the Quietest Moments tour L.A. Forum April 28, 1977
Heart – Little Queen tour Universal Amphitheater July 17, 1977
Kansas – Point of Know Return tour Long Beach Arena December 31, 1977
ELO – Out of the Blue tour Anaheim Stadium, August 26,1978
Fleetwood Mac – Tusk tour L.A. Forum December 4–6, 1979
Pink Floyd – The Wall tour LA Memorial Sports Arena February 7–13, 1980
Caveats – not many – I trimmed out the bands such as Happy The Man, Kate Bush and Camel who did not make it to L.A. for their greatest tours (in the case of Ms. Bush, never forever!). Also gone were some of the more progressive acts, such as Gentle Giant, Frank Zappa, PFM, U.K., Dixie Dregs, which were amazing live, but did not garner a wider audience during the period of my focus. Even with the edits, I cheated and listed 19 bands.
Given the more mainstream focus of RS, I still would have expected the staff to cover a few more bands that make my top choices, such as Yes, Queen and Jethro Tull who I personally witness delivering the most spectacular live concerts of the decade. Having said that, I’ve come to predict the view of this magazine and their favorites over the years, which to be fair has in fact grown to include artists they would have skipped in the past. The article is a fun read, full of quotes from those who were there, and it may prompt you to reflect on your past concert experiences, and maybe grab a seat at an upcoming show, to again bask in the glow of stage lights.